From Warfare, State And Society In The Byzantine World 565-1204

[.. ] Here we have a society in which war was condemned, peace extolled, and fighting was to be avoided at all costs, but which was nevertheless the inheritor of the military administrative structures and, in many ways, the militaristic ideology of the expanding pre-Christian Roman empire in its heyday. Yet, through the blending of Christian ideals with the political will to survive, the late Roman Christian society of the eastern Mediterranean/south Balkan region generated a unique culture which was able to cling without reservation to a pacifistic ideal while at the same time legitimate and justify the maintenance of an immensely efficient, for the most part remarkably effective, military apparatus.

In its self-awareness and in its constant effort to present and rationalize this paradox, East Roman culture evolved what was, in many respects, a remarkably modern political-theoretical rationale, in which philanthropy merged with the practical demands of medieval Realpolitik to harness both the pacific and the militaristic elements of the society—reflected in the culture of monasticism on the one hand and of the provincial military elite on the other. The fact that retiring soldiers so frequently took up the monastic life as a means both of securing their future economically and physically, as well as of recovering spiritual well-being and working towards the remission of their sins, is an indication of this—however much, in reality, the individuals themselves may have harboured a less refined notion of their actions.

East Roman military administration remained, until the twelfth century, far in advance of that of its nearest neighbours, even though that of the Muslim states and principalities to the east was also very sophisticated. But the continued centralization of fiscal structures and consequent control over resources in materials and men (both politically and economically) gave the Byzantine government an advantage which none of its foes enjoyed. As long as the central government maintained its grip on the tax-extracting (or resource- extracting) machinery of the state, it was able to direct resources according to the requirements of defence or offence, and in accordance with the overall interests of the empire, to the best effect, in theory if not always in practice. Efficacious use of resources in men and materiel depended, of course, on those in authority recognizing where the priorities lay and not having to fight for their point of view to be implemented. That this was not always the case the political history of the Byzantine empire all too frequently shows.

Yet the organizational edge which Byzantine forces had over their enemies was maintained well into the twelfth century, when the predominance of non- Byzantine mercenary forces becomes particularly clear. Attitudes also played an important part, and effective military organization owed something to the consciousness, not only of Byzantine military officers, but of civilians with no practical military experience as well, of a long and honourable tradition of military writing. This was in turn combined with the historical awareness, cultivated in the upper levels of literate Byzantine culture in both Constantinople and the provinces, of the past achievements of East Roman armies. But it was not just the knowledge of a catalogue of achievements. Much more importantly, the historical narratives and the military manuals offered reasons for these achievements: order, discipline and tactical cohesion in battle; well-planned logistical arrangements; and strict adherence to Orthodoxy and clear awareness of the crucial importance of divine support.

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